Baked Sunday Mornings: Date Squares

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I can’t say I was excited about this recipe. I think the name reminded me of my least favorite Baked recipe, Bale Bars. But, cookies are my favorite thing to make and this recipe sounded like a breeze.

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They were super easy to put together, and the only dates I found at my local store were already chopped into small pieces, making things go even quicker.

I had two small issues: the first was that my crumb mixture was too dry. It really did need more butter and I considered adding more, but in the end I just went with the original recipe. That made them more messy and I lost a lot of the crumbs, but there was a cohesive bar in there that cut nicely and came out of the pan easily, even without using parchment. (how could I be out of parchment?!)

My other issue was that I read the instructions wrong. It said to rotate halfway through baking, about thirty minutes and for some reason I took that to mean rotate thirty minutes in, then bake another thirty. I realized my mistake about five minutes after rotating so luckily I didn’t ruin my bars.

I have to say, the bars are really tasty and were nothing like my sad bale bar failure. My kid-testers enjoyed them too even though one of them was really disappointed that there was no chocolate involved. He thought ‘date squares’ were cookie bars you made for a date, and would naturally contain chocolate.

Go see what everyone else thought!

Next up: Wintermint Cake!! This cake is due the same weekend as my birthday, so I think I know what kind of cake I’ll have for my birthday this year!!!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Campfire Cookies

This seemed like the perfect recipe to jump back in with. It’s cold and dreary and the perfect time to bake. Plus, I DO need to narrow down some  recipes for cookie swaps this season. I was really excited to bake what I thought were going to be perfect cookies.

These were easy to put together:
(I know there are two eggs in my picture, but I just used one)

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and I love my new(ish) cookie scoop:

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Child Labor:

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Done:

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One of my boys’ teachers had a birthday and I was happy to have a treat to share with her. The shape turned out a little weird because of the marshmallows, which bummed me out, but I still felt hopeful.

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Unfortunately, even though I only baked my cookies for 14 minutes, when they cooled they were hard as a rock. I had 37 cement cookies. I didn’t have time to bake more so I sent a dozen to school with my son and received a very nice thank you card. I feel terrible because they were NOT what I expected. I know not everyone hates crunchy cookies and I hope she really did enjoy them.

I was bummed that a recipe I was so excited about turned out so terrible so I decided to try again. I was inspired by a fellow baker and decided to put the cookies in a muffin tin with the marshmallows on top. I also hated the cinnamon–it’s all I could taste in the first round–so even though I doubled the recipe this time I only used 1/4 teaspoon.

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I don’t have a torch (sadly) so I pulled the cookies out when the marshmallows darkened and the cookie looked done. The cookie stayed soft and the marshmallow didn’t burn off the way they did in the first round. The chocolate chips melted well in the center and helped anchor the marshmallow.

They turned out great this time. My family loved them, and all the flavors I was expecting in the first batch were there–not drowned out by the cinnamon. I would be proud to take these to a cookie swap and will have the chance since I am hosting one next month!

Go see if the other bakers had more luck than I did!

Next up!: Date Squares

Baked Sunday Mornings: Bale Bars

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*Sigh* This was not a sexy recipe. The name, the color of the ingredients, the finished product…just–no.

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I LOVED the Good Morning Sunshine Bars and I was hoping that these would be a lighter, blonder version of those perfect no-bake yummies. But–nope.

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The recipe was very straightforward and easy. Melt the butter, add sugar and cream…eventually finishing up with Fleur de Sel, vanilla, white chocolate and peanut butter. The gooey stuff gets poured over peanuts and crushed pretzels and is supposed to chill into a delicious bar.

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I had a bit of an issue early on–I went to put the pretzels in the food processor to chop them up and…nothing. It didn’t start. It was plugged in, everything seemed ok but nothing happened. I panicked thinking my new(ish) giant, beloved food processor was kaput.

Feeling cranky, I put the pretzels in a baggie and crushed them with a rolling pin. I felt like Wilma Flintstone…I love my gadgets. After I crushed the pretzels by hand I realized that part of the top was on backwards. Once I flipped it around, it sprung to life. I had already added the peanuts so I moved on.

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I did get to use a new toy–my kitchen scale, a Christmas present from my honey. I hadn’t tried it out yet and I loved it. It’s amazing how completely wrong my estimates turned out to be when trying to eyeball amounts. It was fun to measure out the ingredients exactly, and I thought that my bars would be pretty spot on. The only thing I did differently was use creamy peanut butter. I never buy chunky and I didn’t think as I grabbed a jar for the recipe. I didn’t want to make my own–I was glad to have a simple recipe that didn’t require much effort this time around. I don’t think that substitution mattered much, though.

I finished up last night and covered the pan with plastic wrap to chill overnight. I was looking forward to having one with coffee this morning. They didn’t cut very nicely…the bars were pretty crumbly. I thought that maybe I didn’t coat the mixture evenly enough before pressing into the pan. If I hadn’t have measured everything out exactly I would have thought that my amounts were off. But nevertheless, the bars were pretty disappointing. The color did nothing to make me want to eat them. I thought about drizzling something on top: caramel or white chocolate or even milk or dark chocolate, but they kind of felt like a lost cause.

I tried to use a cookie cutter to cut out a cute heart shape for my picture but got a mound of crumbs instead, so I grabbed the ends of the parchment and tossed the whole thing in the trash. Maybe not getting the pretzels pulverized as much by hand as I would have by machine was part of the problem. Whatever the cause, they just didn’t work out for me.

I left the plate of squares out for my boys and even they weren’t interested. It was surprising that an easy recipe was a bust. Ah, well. Maybe some of my fellow bakers had better luck.

Next up: Lime Angel Food Cake with Lime Glaze. Awesome, I’ve always wanted to make an angel food cake! My boys won’t love the lime, but that’s ok–more for me!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Going Rogue–The Great Brookster Experiment

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We were supposed to make a Simple Chocolate Whiskey Tart with Whiskey Whipped Cream over at Baked Sunday Mornings this time around. So I guess now is where I need to tell you that I don’t usually like mixing baked goods with alcohol. I like to keep dessert time and drinky time separate. 😉 I did make the Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake when it was assigned to us and tried hard to like it, but I just kept thinking that the whiskey was interfering with the delicate cake and juicy peaches.

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So I decided to take the plunge and attempt to make a recipe that I had wanted to try for a while: the Brookster. (cookie+brownie!) My fellow bakers tackled this recipe in September 2012, way before I joined.

Sometimes when I am going to make something new, especially if I think it might be difficult I like to google it so I can see photos from other bakers who have already made it and blogged about it. I have to say that may have not been a good idea in this case because it almost made me not want to attempt this recipe because the success rate seemed to be pretty low, and the people who DID succeed with it seemed to be meh about the outcome and prefer either a chocolate chip cookie OR a brownie separately.

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I decided to approach this from every possible angle. I knew that the recipe made almost double the amount of chocolate chip cookie dough as it did brownie batter, so I doubled the brownie recipe. I thought that would give me enough to work with so I could make muffin-size Brooksters, larger mini tart pan Brooksters, plus individual cookies and brownies for comparison. (to see if they were, in fact better separately)

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The recipe was straight forward: make the dough and batter and chill for 3 hours. But have you met me? I don’t chill for 3 hours. I’m cool with chilling overnight but if I want to make something same day I usually put it in the freezer to expedite the action. I chilled each in the freezer for an hour and a half. The cookie dough was still in the bowl, one muffin tin had cups half-filled with brownie batter and the remainder of the brownie batter was chilling in the bowl. I also half filled two mini tart pans with brownie batter to make Brooksters and filled 2 other 3/4 of the way full to make plain brownies.

I haven’t been this tense and nervous making anything since I screwed up a buttercream for a cake a few months ago. I was fully prepared for failure, at least for part of the experiment. Maybe the muffin tin Brooksters would be raw in the middle. Maybe the tart pan Brooksters would overflow and splatter all over my oven.

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After I pulled everything from the freezer I assembled the Brooksters. A circle of cookie dough roughly the size of a 50 cent piece was rolled and smooshed into a flat disc, then placed on top of the chilled brownies in the muffin tin. I pushed the discs into the batter slightly. I realized that my little cookie dough hats were fully covering the brownies so I made them a little smaller to see if that made any difference at all in comparison. (it didn’t)

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When the first pan of muffin-tin Brooksters were in the oven I scooped out a quarter sheet pan of plain chocolate chip cookies. I kept a close eye on the first Brookster batch as they cooked. Ten minutes on one side, pan rotated and timer set for ten more minutes. After twenty minutes I had to make a judgement call. If I was making regular cookies, I would have pulled them before they got as dark at the cookie part was on my Brooksters, but I had to remind myself that I usually underbake my cookies. I touched the tops and they seemed like they could safely bake a few more minutes so I set the timer for three more minutes.

I let them cool completely in the pan, except for one test Brookster that I broke in half. It was hard to tell when warm if the brownie was totally done but the cookie was definitely cooked through. I put one half in the fridge to cool for further observation. The plain cookies went in next and the mini tart pans went in after that. By that time the original batch had cooled enough for me to realize that I had achieved Brookster success! They were not raw or weird at all. I pulled the muffin liners off of that batch because they were really greasy and looked kind of gross. They peeled away easily and I set the Brooksters aside to further cool.

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The batch of cookies browned pretty quick and got a l lot darker than I would have liked before I had the chance to pull them. I was a little disappointed and just set them aside.

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By the time I decided to make a second batch of muffin tin Brooksters (since the first batch was fine) the tart-pan Brooksters were cooled and I took them out of their pans. I had been really worried about the tart-pan Brooksters because they were really buttery-bubbly. When I looked at them butter was oozing around them in the pan. It looked gross/weird and I was terrified that that meant certain failure. It turns out that by the time I pulled them the butter had burned off and by the time I took them out of the pan they were totally fine and not weird/greasy at all. Phew.

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I had originally thought: ok if the first batch of muffin Brooksters tanked then I could still take the second half of the brownie batter (chilled in a bowl, not a pan) and make plain brownies, and make regular cookies with the remaining cookie dough and all will not be lost. But since everything was going pretty well I just made a second Brookster batch. I was confident in baking times at that point and replicated the 10 on one side, 13 on the other and they were great.

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Amazingly enough, I still had enough leftover cookie dough to make 7 more cookies and this was after liberal raw-dough eating.
By the time everything was all said and done I had 24 muffin-sized Brooksters, 2 4″ tart Brooksters, 2 4″ brownies and 13 cookies. So obviously, I had plenty of product to work with to compare and choose a favorite. I have to say: I love warm cookies, but prefer brownies the second day, so after testing a couple of muffin Brooksters I put all the rest aside to rest overnight.

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I left the liners on the second batch of muffin-pan Brooksters and so the next morning I had half with and half without. The 4″ Brooksters unmolded from their pans with no problems at all.

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So here was my overall assessment: the muffin tin Brooksters were by far the crowd favorite. They were great in my boys’ lunches, they were perfect for a very satisfying dessert treat. Even though the cookie SEEMED too dark at first, it was not burned or overcooked. The brownie part was fudgy and dense and pretty much the best brownie on the planet. It didn’t rise, but the cookie did so the layers ended up being equals, which really surprised me because the disc seemed so small and thin and unsubstantial.

The buttery, chewy cookie was a great compliment to the super dense over-the-top fudgy brownie, and I really did prefer them together. I love brownies but sometimes the fudginess is just TOO much. The texture and buttery flavor of the cookie and the little burst of semisweet chocolate chips really did enhance the brownie for me. The Brooksters that still had the liners turned out to be the better choice because the liners kept them from drying out. The ones with the liners removed were a bit dry after a couple of days.

The cookies were good and you know…just chocolate chip cookies. They could have used a sprinkle of salt on the tops, but they were great/fine and although the color was dark, they stayed chewy and soft even days later.

The giant brownie was tasty and perfect but….the giant Brookster for me tasted so much better. (even though that size is a bit insane and I can NEVER make a dessert that only yields 6 in a family of 5 )

Next time I think I will stick to the recipe as is and make 12 Brooksters and freeze the rest of the cookie dough either for more Brooksters later or an emergency batch of cookies. (cookie emergencies happen!) 24 Brooksters, as glorious as that is–is just too many to have on hand at once.

Don’t get me wrong, we ate them ALL, and after they were gone my boys were like ‘where are the Brooksters?’ They had them after school and in lunches a few days and they said that ALL of their friends wanted one, which is a huge compliment.

I have to say–I have not been more proud of a baking success in a LONG time. I was so happy and surprised with the way everything turned out and I really think the reason I was able to do so well was because I was able to see ahead of time what some of the potential problems could be. I think smooshing the dough discs pretty thin was the way to go, I can see how a thicker disc would not have gotten cooked through and I can definitely understand the inclination to want to add more cookie dough on top of that huge mound of brownie batter. But truly, the layers end up almost the same, which is awesome.

I hope that if any other would-be Brookster bakers read this it is helpful for their own successful batch. Truly, this dessert was so so so good and I can totally see why the Baked boys sell so many at their bakery.

Next up: Bale bars! (I have no idea what that is, I’m off to check out the recipe!)

Baked Sunday Mornings: Velvet Chocolate Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel

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I love fudge, my grandmother used to make it a lot during the holidays. I had all of the ingredients on hand except for the walnuts, but I *did* have the perfect amount of pecans available, leftover from Thanksgiving so I decided to use those and not worry about the walnuts.

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I made the marshmallow cream first one afternoon. I was pressed for time and shouldn’t have started it when I did but it turned out well regardless of my time crunch. I was thrilled to see the perfect, fluffy marshmallow cloud that magically appeared in my mixer bowl. I have never even thought about homemade marshmallow fluff, and have never used marshmallows in fudge so the whole process was new and exciting for me.

The one problem I had was the fact that I didn’t have a candy thermometer. I have lots of regular/meat thermometers but I had forgotten that my one candy thermometer broke at some point. I used one of the thermometers I had on hand, but it didn’t go up as high as I needed so I was nervous kind of winging/guessing at the correct time/temperature.

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As usual I had a kid underfoot great helper so that made me feel a bit distracted/disorganized. I was stirring, stirring, stirring and trying to keep him from getting burned when I realized I hadn’t cut/toasted the nuts that I would very shortly need. I set the oven to 400 and threw them in before the oven was even up to temp. I wasn’t exactly sure what “toasted extra dark” meant, but I felt like I was on the right track when I smelled the nuts close to burning. I yanked them out of the oven, threw them into the food processor right as I was finishing up the other steps. My pan was a 9″ so I folded up one side of foil so I could rig it into the proper 8″ size I needed. I poured the fudge in to cool and the foil barrier worked just fine.

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I have to admit: the “X” thing confused me. I just couldn’t picture the final product. I did try to cut the Xs before it was fully set, but I had the pieces planned to be WAY TOO big for fudge. The only blog post that I saw that featured this recipe skipped the Xs AND the olive oil so I guess I wasn’t the only one that didn’t quite get it.

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I tried the fudge after it set, but before the addition of olive oil or fleur de sel and it was amazing. Really strong and beautiful contrasting flavors: deep chocolate, toasty pecans (they were perfectly done, luckily!) and the sweet hint of fluffy marshmallows. I didn’t see how the fudge could get better. But it did. I found that the backside of a knife created a good, deep X in the fudge squares. I think that the regular knife edge wouldn’t allow for the olive oil to sit on top of the fudge properly. The fruitiness of the olive oil worked perfectly with the other flavors and I love salt on chocolate anytime. It was seriously mind-blowing.

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My husband reminded me of the dessert he had on his menu when he was the executive chef for a French restaurant: dark chocolate tart with fleur de sel and olive oil gelato. This fudge was an exact replica of those flavors. This is definitely my go-to fudge recipe from now on.

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And the fudge is already gone. 🙂

Go see how everyone else liked this delicious fudge!

Next up: Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone. Yay, perfect for Christmas!!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Antique Caramel Cake

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I really, really love caramel and I wanted to make this cake, but I wasn’t able to line up a dinner party play date for my family so I didn’t want to make a full cake and have it go to waste. Plus, I was able to get some cute, boy-friendly cupcake decorations that I wanted to try out for my guys, so I opted to make a batch of cupcakes instead.

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The batter was quick and easy to make although I was wondering how caramel-y it would end up tasting.

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It used a bit of vinegar at the end and it made me laugh to realize the brand was “Lady’s Choice”–should I be offended?

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I had lots of help from my little cupcake-loving guys. G “helped” fill the cupcake liners and M helped me make the frosting. I forgot to whisk in the heavy cream at the right time, so I added it at the end. Luckily it didn’t mess anything up. Sometimes it’s hard to focus when baking with 3 little boys running around. I *did* add a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the frosting. I don’t think I’m capable of making a cake (or cupcakes) without vanilla in some form.

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I ended up doing spooky red sparkes/knives for the big boys, rainbow sugar sprinkles for baby G, pink sprinkles for me and crystal salt flakes for my sweet man. I ended up “testing” two before I even frosted them, they made about 17 cupcakes, but I did overfill a few of them so they probably should have made closer to 20.

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I was happy with the way they turned out–very rich and caramel-y without being too sweet. I didn’t add any more caramel on top, but I did sprinkle a bit of kosher salt on them to contrast with the sweet caramel. Everyone in my family also gave them two thumbs up.

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I had to take a work call when I had five minutes left on the timer and forgot all about the cupcakes for about 8 minutes. I yanked them out in a panic, afraid I had ruined them. Even though they were a bit darker on the tops than I would normally allow, the finished cupcake was fine, not dry at all.

I will definitely make these again, both as cupcakes and as a layer cake. Go see how the recipe turned out for my fellow bakers!

Next up: Chocolate Velvet Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Good Morning Sunshine Bars

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I was really excited about this recipe, it’s something I knew everyone would love and it was a great quick and easy treat to throw together, even on a busy week night.

I had a friend in town who happened to be vegan so I cut a few pieces for her before I added the milk chocolate. I was feeling lazy so I just melted the chips in a glass bowl and used a teaspoon to Jackson Pollock the top of the bars.

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I have to say, these were perfect. I loved them immediately after they were made and they were amazing in the morning with coffee. They were definitely NOT a morning treat for my boys, they got them in the evening after dinner.

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The bars were a yummy and elegant upgrade from the usual cereal concoction: rice crispy treats. These would be great for one of the many bake sales we have at the boys’ school and I know I’ll be making these again sooner than later!

Go over and see what everyone else thought!!

Next up: Antique Caramel Cake!! I’ve wanted to try this one and there are two good things about it–1. It uses ingredients I almost always have on hand 2. It’s only two layers so I shouldn’t have a lot leftover. I’m going to try and plan making this around dinner plans, Baked cakes are always perfect for sharing with friends!